On The Rational Madness of Fiction

The balance of reality and fiction within fiction has always fascinated me. I even wrote a hit play* about it. I like to get inside a character’s head when, to me, it is painfully obvious that they are being directed strictly by whatever the story needs. Why would they think splitting up to cover more ground is a good idea? Why doesn’t anybody just sit down and ask questions instead of being all mysterious all the time? Why are the characters scared of such-and-such when they’ve saved the world a hundred times over already? And my personal favourite, why does s/he think the idea of ghosts is “crazy” when s/he is hanging out with vampires and werewolves?

Let’s talk about that last one. You’ve always got the one character who scoffs at some weird new plot device, even after an entire season or two of episode-to-episode wackiness. Peter Bishop was a good example in the early episodes of Fringe. Homie just would not believe in the latest super-science even though he’d seen a million other super-sciences. So why? Besides the obvious skeptic archetype and the need to explain things to the non-believer (the audience). Why would a character act like that?

It’s simple when you think about it. Which I apparently do, far too much. It’s necessary for those characters in order to keep from going insane. Vampires are real. That’s fucked up. That’s just crazy. But, I mean, they’re real, and I see them, so they must be normal. Okay. Great. I’ve worked vampires into my cosmology. I accept vampires as a thing.

“That fireball that killed all those vampires? That was a dragon,” says Homie’s friend. So Homie thinks, alright, no fucking way dragons are real. That’s ridiculous. Vampires are obviously real. But dragons? That’s some fairy tale nonsense. Oh, no, yeah, that’s a straight-up dragon outside my window. Okay, I guess those guys are real. But chupacabras? No dice.

We always keep a fine line between what we consider rational and what we consider impossible. When we see something unfamiliar, we acclimate to it. We accept it as a part of our world view. We’ve been doing it since we were babies. Seeing something we know is irrational, we’ll rationalize it. It exists, so it must be bound to the same universal ruleset that we’ve been bound to our whole lives. That doesn’t mean we’re ready to accept any ol’ irrational thing that scuttles on by. How could we? If we started thinking that way, we’d have no way to convince ourselves that the Dread Lord Cthulhu isn’t seconds away from devouring the universe. That we wouldn’t spontaneously combust at any given moment. We’d think there was no rhyme or reason to anything, and therefore existence is chaos and we must embrace it or destroy ourselves.

I feel like I really get Lovecraft right now.

– H.

*Not performed, but some people liked the script.

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